[OUTLOOK]Summit depends on groundworkThe summit between President Roh Moo-hyun and President George W. Bush is five days away. The meeting is more significant than just the first diplomatic encounter between the two heads of state. This is because the summit takes place at a time when the U.S.-centered world order has been strengthened by the U.S. victory in Iraq and North Korea and the United States are engaged in direct confrontation over issues that could determine the fate of the Korean Peninsula.
The result of the summit holds sway over both near-term peace on the Korean Peninsula and relations between South Korea and the United States. President Roh’s visit to the United States is commonly thought of as an attempt to reach a positive and implementable agreement with the United States over the North Korean nuclear issue and to resolve the mistrust between the two countries regarding their military alliance. Despite the good intentions, there are plenty of obstacles to a successful summit. A thorough preparation on the part of the South Korean government is necessary if only to avoid repeating the debacle of the summit between President Kim Dae-jung and President Bush in March 2001.
President Roh should expect a Bush team that is not in tune with his way of thinking. President Bush and his advisers believe in conservatism and realism and are highly unlikely to compromise their ideology. President Kim did not consider this important and thought he could convince President Bush of the value of the sunshine policy through the summit. As a result, the Kim administration had difficulty acting in concert with the United States on North Korea. The argument that the engagement policy would decrease tension and bring about peace on the Korean Peninsula had very little effect on President Bush who thinks the sunshine policy cannot turn a member of the axis of evil into a nation of good.
The administration probably holds the same stance toward the Roh Moo-hyun government’s “peace and prosperity policy,” the philosophy that follows the Kim Dae-jung government’s engagement policy toward North Korea. In particular, the exclusion of South Korea from the recent trilateral consultation in Beijing and North Korea’s attitude during the ministerial meeting in Pyeongyang might be seen as a limit to the engagement policy. This is why persuading the United States this time around may be a particularly difficult thing to do.
For the South Korean government, an even more serious problem regarding South Korea-U.S. relations and the North Korean nuclear crisis lies in the lack of a clear objective and detailed policy. The pursuit of the initial objectives ― an independent foreign policy, revision of the relationship between South Korea and the United States and an active role in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue ― only produced strain in the South Korea-U.S. alliance. The newly-emerged conflict between pursuing what is right and finding realistic ways to attain it provided an excuse for the lack of clear foreign policy objectives. Consequently, the Roh government also lacks a detailed policy on how to deal with the United States in this summit.
If this is indeed the situation, what the South Korean government must accomplish at the summit is clear. Rather than trying to convince the United States of the validity of its course of action, it needs to first understand how the United States views the situation and its stance on it. What is more important at this point is not the South Korean stance on U.S. policy on North Korea and the nuclear issue but the true intentions of the United States. Does the United States intend to prevent North Korea from producing any nuclear material or merely block such exports? Is it trying to quickly resolve the North Korean issue or is it intent on dealing with it over the long-term? Will there be bilateral dealings between North Korea and the United States or multilateral negotiations?
The reality is that the uncertainty over the Korean Peninsula will not go away unless we fully understand how the United States intends to deal with Pyeongyang. South Korea’s North Korea policy must also be determined by taking that into consideration. To repair the strained relations with the United States and find a solution to the nuclear crisis, we need to accurately understand what the U.S. intentions are, rather than unilaterally expressing what our stance is. The summit preparations need to be made while holding firmly in mind what we can actually attain from talking with the United States.
That the way to Pyeongyang is fastest via Seoul cannot be made a fact by declaration alone. Seoul should remember that a declaration will be only a self-serving gesture without the right preparation.
* The writer is the dean of the Graduate School of International Studies at Hanyang University.
by Lee Seung-chul